McKinnon Poll: Understanding attitudes towards social support in Australia

1 November 2022

Government expenditure on a number of social programs has increased in recent years, including aged care, the NDIS, childcare, and other areas. There are ongoing spending pressures in these areas, as expectations of wider access and the improved quality of government funded services increases the demand for additional funding.

These challenges are coupled with increasing budgetary pressures in other areas and rising debt levels, which will create a significant budgetary problem for governments. Understanding public expectations around these services – what is considered fair, and how the increases in funding should be paid for – would be valuable as government assess future policy settings.

The Extended Pilot

In 2021, The Susan McKinnon Foundation funded the newDemocracy Foundation to conduct three polls and examine how systemic, high quality opinion polling could have an impact on or improve the quality of public policy decision making in Australia (the Pilot). Building on this work, in 2022 the Foundation commenced an extended pilot in partnership with JWS Research to further test the capacity of non-partisan and non-advocacy focused opinion research to support more informed public policy debates and better decision making by government (the Extended Pilot).

The Extended Pilot seeks to:

  • Establish a robust understanding of the uses for and impact of systematic, independent, and high-quality public opinion research on policy dialogue, policy development and government decision-making in Australia;
  • Build on an understanding of the most effective approaches to improve the policymaker’s understanding of public opinion; and
  • Improve and systematise a unique methodology to improve value delivery to our stakeholders.

The Extended Pilot involves wide consultation with stakeholders and the identification and research of four topics over a 12 month period that would benefit from high quality public opinion research. Topics are scoped and researched before commissioning qualitative (focus group) and quantitative (opinion poll) research.

The Extended Pilot expands on the research undertaken in the Pilot and tests whether different ways of polling develop a more nuanced understanding of public opinion of real value to policymakers. These approaches could include:

  • Testing the strength of views
  • Testing the level of knowledge behind those views
  • Providing context and testing the impact on responses
  • Presenting trade-offs / asking respondents to choose between a limited number of options.

Social support in Australia

The first poll conducted in the Extended Pilot tested public attitudes towards high government expenditure on social policy programs, particularly those which are forecasted to grow, e.g. NDIS and aged care. The research sought information on public attitudes towards how these services and increases in services should be funded.

The tension between budget repair and the significant expectations of improved social programs is likely to be a defining policy challenge for the next decade. Insight into how this trade-off should be managed will be useful in guiding the policy and political debate on these issues, how expectations are set and the fairness of different approaches.

The key objectives of this research were to:

  • Understand public attitudes towards and perceptions of Australia’s social safety net system currently.
  • Identify groups in the community who are perceived to need a social safety net.
  • Ascertain what the general public wants in a social safety net, including perceptions of what constitutes a high quality service.
  • Gauge perceptions on the current state of aged care, childcare and the NDIS in Australia, and what we should be aspiring to as a society.
  • Identify any trade-offs or compromises the Australian public is willing to make to improve the delivery of the aforementioned services.
  • Measure receptiveness to various potential solutions to fund service improvements.

The research methodology involved:

  • Preliminary consultation with decision makers to identify priority areas of enquiry within the topic most relevant to the Extended Pilot.
  • In-depth video conferencing interviews conducted via video conferencing with six expert stakeholders including senior social policy and subject matter experts from government, academia and industry.
  • Survey of 3,000 Australian adults with survey quotas on age, gender and location, and weighting applied at the analysis stage to actual age, gender and location proportions based on ABS census data.

Key insights arising from the research included:

  • Social services are important priorities but are not currently meeting the needs of Australians. Almost two thirds of Australians (65%) consider the cost of living to be among the top five most pressing issues Australia needs to tackle, followed by hospitals and healthcare (57%). While overall, aged care and our ageing population (32%), education and childcare (24%) and the provision of public services, including NDIS (22%) are second tier priorities, they are of significantly greater importance to those in the relevant life stages.
  • With considerable cost of living pressures in mind and the aversion to increased personal tax rates, over half of Australians agree that while a certain level of services need to be provided to all, user contributions are appropriate for additional services among those with the means to do so. This applies to aged care, childcare and disability services, although in the case of disability services, there is an inclination to provide a high level of services to anyone who needs it, regardless of ability to pay.
  • Australians want fundamental issues to be addressed across aged care, the NDIS and childcare before more funding is sought. Those surveyed identified the need for more and better qualified staff, the need for better management, regulation and monitoring of high standards by government, the need for a customer-centred approach and solutions to ensure the most vulnerable do not miss out on access.

Further in-depth details, findings and insights relating to the NDIS, aged care and child care were shared with relevant stakeholders, including Members of Parliament, government agencies and other interest groups at the time. The data set arising from the research is available for download. Stakeholders will also engage in a series of feedback and design interviews relating to program design and development for the purposes of the Extended Pilot. Details, findings and insights relating to the Extended Pilot will be published in due course.